STERLING — Sterling softball catcher Lauren Fritz had a good feeling that her battery mate, pitcher Lexy Staples, was primed for a huge game against Rochelle, Saturday, in a Northern Illinois Big-12 crossover game.
"I was confident with all of her pitches from the start," Fritz said. "I could tell she was on. Before the game she warmed up really well."
Fritz was right as Staples' strong pregame bullpen session carried over into the game. She was dominant throughout and proved to be unhittable, as she tossed a perfect game in an 11-0, six-inning run-rule win over visiting Rochelle.
The freshman faced the minimum 18 batters in a six-inning game and struck out 13 while walking none. At one point, Staples struck out six in a row spanning the final two batters of the second inning to the first batter in the fourth inning.
At times, Rochelle's hitters looked like someone with a broom, swatting at a cobweb in the distance. Some had no chance.
"You have to give [Staples] credit," Rochelle coach Adrian Smith said. "She was hitting her spots. It's pretty cool to throw a no-hitter. I'm sure she is excited, and she should be. We couldn't touch her."
Rochelle (2-8) put the ball in play just five times in the game – none of which left the infield.
Staples worked fast and kept Rochelle's hitters from making any solid contact with a steady mixture of well-placed pitches. She kept the ball low and spotted pitches where she wanted throughout the game and stayed ahead of hitters.
Not once in the game did Staples find herself in a three-ball count.
"She did great getting ahead in the count," Sterling coach Becki Edmondson said. "We've talked to her all year long about that and she was great at hitting her spots and was able to move the ball around."
While Staples (10-3) was dominant on the mound, the Golden Warriors (10-3) unleashed an 11-hit attack and gave their pitcher a cushion of runs to work with. The offense pushed across the eventual game-winning run in the bottom of the first inning and added five runs in both the third and sixth innings.
The key was to be aggressive at the plate and get to Hubs' pitcher Tracy Ellis before she got ahead in the count. Ellis throws hard and if she was working with a two-strike count, she would slow things down and toss a snail-paced changeup that fooled Sterling's hitters early.
"We have a tendency to sit back on that first pitch," Edmondson said, "and we knew going in that [Ellis] would go to her change.
"We talked about being aggressive on that first pitch so we're not sitting back waiting for that changeup and we did a nice job adjusting to that."
The results were evident as every starter had a hit. Nadia Trujillo went 1 for 3 with a double and an RBI while Fritz added two RBIs in addition to calling the perfect game behind the plate.
Alexey Wolfe had a triple and Emily McDonald smacked a walk-off two-run home run over the left field fence in the bottom of the sixth to cap the run-rule win.
With the strong offense, Staples felt comfortable in the circle until she realized what she was doing.
"I was getting nervous towards the end because I was trying to go for the perfect game," Staples said.
How will this performance play a role in future starts?
"This will help me the rest of the season," Staples said. "Just knowing that I've showed my best I know I need to continue to show it."
Sterling 5, Hononegah 4, 8 inn.
Sterling was down, 4-0, after three innings, but clawed back and scored runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh to push the game to extras.
Staples earned the win after coming on in the third inning in relief of starter Cheyenne Harrington, who went 2 1/3 innings. Staples scattered six hits in 5 2/3 innings and allowed no runs, a walk and struck out one.
Alexey Wolfe breathed life into the Golden Warriors when she singled home the tying run in the seventh to tie the score at 4-4. In the eighth, Darien Bardoner drew a walk, stole second and scored when the throw from Hononegah's catcher ended up in center field.
"It was good to see some clutch hitting," Sterling coach Becki Edmondson said.